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Escape From the Deep, by John Blythe

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Oceanic research base investigation goes haywire, March 22, 2023

For this game, we jump ahead to the year 2055. You are part of a team sent to investigate Neptune Base, a research and mining station at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean that has been the recent site of accidents among its personnel. During the investigation an explosion shakes the base and knocks you unconscious. You wake up in a medical bed with the confirmation that foul play has occurred.

Now that I think about it, Neptune Base does not give the impression of being a mining station. Only for conducting classified research.

Gameplay has nice atmosphere. Escape from the Deep follows the trope of exploring a compromised near NPC-less structure after an unknown accident. You wake up in the medical bay and see carnage but no explanations. Finding answers and survival are intertwined. I have reviewed games like this from the past, and I find them to be tons of fun. Particularly with science fiction.

One thing I really liked is the “use [item]” structure in the gameplay. No need for “unlock door with key,” or- well, I shouldn’t spoil the solutions. Usually, two words is all you need. If you are stuck, you can go room to room using things at random, but the game is designed to still retain a sense of problem solving. After all, you must acquire the item first. There are occasional technicalities that dent the player-friendliness, but ultimately it is designed to keep the player moving forward.

Also: the game sometimes discards items that you no longer need. That was helpful. Especially since there is an inventory limit. Aside from the crowbar, diving attire, and keycards, everything only has one application in the gameplay. The evidence being priceless, of course.

There is a small in-game help system. It provided much appreciated assistance for (Spoiler - click to show) luring out the monster with the food pack. I needed help, and the game provided just that. However, there are puzzles that are equally/if not more technical that have no guidance. It seems like the support system is randomly scattered across the game, as if the author intended to provide an in-depth one but gave up on it halfway through. I am still grateful for it.

The puzzles are fun! Most are intuitive. They felt satisfying and rewarding to solve. However, some could use smoother implementation. Please consider this part as a critique. I hope this does not deter you from playing. If anything, it might guide you.

It took FOREVER figure out how to (Spoiler - click to show) deactivate the laser grid around the strange artifact in the lab. The in-game help system had nothing to say about it. This was the puzzle that was keeping me from finishing the game. I wanted to review this game ever since it appeared on IFDB but could not get past this puzzle. I had to set the game aside and return to it several times before succeeding.

I had the right idea early on. (Spoiler - click to show) The only functioning generator in the other room kept glitching as the water level regularly spilled into its vents. This glitch kept the laser grid from shutting off due to security controls. Covering the vents seemed liked the answer, and it was. But with what? That is where the gameplay stalled for me.

The game needs to make it clearer that you can take a tray from the kitchen. After opening the fridge, "take all" results in picking up the small kettle and food pack.

You can see: Metal Trays, a Small Fridge, an Instruction Sign, a Kitchen Sink, a Small Kettle and a Food Pack.

Attempting the command again results in "There is nothing you can take at the moment." However, the game still responds to "take tray." I understand that it is up to the player to examine the room carefully, but this was one detail that could have been better implemented.

(Spoiler - click to show) To use the metal tray on the generator, you must also have the box of screws and screwdriver in your inventory. Otherwise, "use tray" will simply result in "not right now." No indicator that the player in on the right track. No "the vent is in the way," or "you need to remove the vent, first." Just "not right now." Sometimes, “no need right now.” And that is frustrating since it is a prompt that the game uses every time you try to experiment with your surroundings.

“Not right now” was the bane of this gameplay. In this case, “Not right now” makes sense since you just do not have the materials to complete the task. Generally, however, there is little way of knowing if what you are doing is productive or if you are wasting time because “Not right now” can be either. Sometimes the game will let you know if you are one the right track while messing around, but more often or not it was “Not right now,” when it came to experimentation.

An example of when I wasted time through experimentation was finding a battery for the wetsuit. This occurred when I first tried the game. The description of wetsuit is:

You notice however, the Thermal battery pack is EMPTY! Which makes it uselss in sub-zero waters.

I wondered if the kettle had something to do with it. The description reads:

It's a small kettle...It's cordless with a battery and built in boil function. Handy if there's a power cut or you want to be portable with it.

I figured that I could use the battery in the kettle- which is used for heating purposes- for the wetsuit. Playing around with the kettle to extract or examine the battery was a mix of “not right now” and “no need right now.” The solution lies elsewhere, but in those early stages I could not gauge if I was on the right path.

Stickler technicalities
There are technicalities. Bugs or things that do not hinder the gameplay but make it less immersive.

For example, when you look at the mirror in the crew bathroom for the first time, you catch a glimpse of the creature scampering down the hallway. However, this occurs if you do this after you (Spoiler - click to show) kill it with the expired food.

Or juggling the evidence on your person. Attempting to read the file after assembling and wearing your dive suit, swimming outside, and then returning indoors results in this response:

That is in a secure water proof pounch in you suit. Pulling them out in water will render them useless and any evidence may have had. (There are typos in the game.)

The game insists that you cannot reread materials even if you are nice and dry inside the base. Meanwhile, you can drop the item while swimming around. But that causes them no damage despite that dropping them means separating them from your waterproof pockets.

The story sparks curiosity and offers a nice amount of suspense. The medical bay that you wake up in is trashed. A dead nurse is lying nearby. You have no idea of what happened, and yet it does not resort to the amnesia trope. Clearly something has happened on Neptune Base. Something that is still alive and lurking. And there are signs of it.

You call out, there's no response. You do hear a scurrying movement coming from somewhere. That's unnerving.

With Escape from the Deep, you can kind of see the story coming a mile away, the secrecy behind the research project. It consists of (Spoiler - click to show) sea monster experimentation where a fellow staff member takes one for the team and agrees (the level of consent behind this agreement is never clarified) to become a test subject for unethical science. Or “science” depending on how you look at it.

Escape from the Deep follows a familiar model found in some sci-fi and sci-fi/horror games. Its backstory can be recreated in a few easy steps:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Step 1: Scientists find DNA from an unexplainable life form. Especially one with dangerous attributes.

Step 2: Scientists ask themselves, “what could possibly go wrong?”

Step 3: Scientists combine said strange DNA/alien biology with that of a human. Bonus points if the human is a fellow scientist.

Step 4: You can probably fill in the blanks for this one. Things go wild. Scientists do not stand a chance against their own creation. The PC, regardless, if they are a test subject or a surviving scientist, now has run of the place. Gameplay begins.

This is just a general model. I can tell you now that the protagonist in Escape from the Deep is neither test subject nor scientist. I enjoyed exploring Neptune Base as an outside party. But the science-gone-wrong trope is obvious. That said, even if you have a feeling that you know what is going to happen, you cannot say for sure until you have played the game.

So, what exactly happened? My understanding is that (Spoiler - click to show) researchers found a bizarre creature and merged its DNA with a person- staff member, I assume- named Erik Stratton. The creature, whom we encounter in the first half of the gameplay, was contained in a laboratory tank but somehow escaped and chowed down on your investigation team. As for Stratton… Anyway.

I still want to know more about the explosion that damaged Neptune Base. And where does the (Spoiler - click to show) neolithic doorway fit in with all this? Furthermore, there are additional signs of (Spoiler - click to show) sabotage as you explore. Wide-spread sabotage. Based on the carnage, it seems like it would have required several people to have participated. Surely it wasn’t just Stratton and that other creature skittering around. Hm.

It would been helpful to be able to read the contents on the USB drive after you download them. In sci-fi games I half expect to have story context conveyed through computer files or logs (although games can also overuse it), but some, like Escape from the Deep, chose not to.

Current Drive has 243 Files - 42 Video Clips
Experiment 002 - May 15th 2052
Experiment 003 - June 3rd 2052

(No way would I expect to see 243 individual entries for the player to read. That would be overkill.)

In this case, it would have been an opportunity to fill in any knowledge gaps, though that would mean extra work on top of an already detailed game.

I have a bone to pick with the endings. The game informs you that the ending is graded based on how much evidence you bring back to civilization.

One can imagine what this would entail: Bring back one, people raise their eyebrows but admit something funky must have occurred. Two, people sort of believe you but still have unanswered questions. Three, people believe you but still don’t understand the full story. And if you bring back all four, you change the field of science and become a legend.

That’s not what happens. Not exactly. (Spoiler - click to show) You either get “Fortune and Glory and Fame,” or “A small house in nowhere's ville.” Bringing back 3-4 gets you the former. 1-2, the latter. It is not possible to have 0 since you cannot drop the strange artefact once you pick it up. This made no sense to me. The gradient part, that is. You definitely want to keep the strange artefact.

People act like you have no proof even if you cart back the strange artifact and, say, the vial of the creature’s blood. Seriously? Are you telling me that none of it has any merit? Or the USB flash drive with all the files? If you tack on the flimsy personnel file, suddenly everyone believes you. Any single piece of evidence, I feel, would have merit. The optimal ending conveys that scientists were wowed by the strange artifact. How come that’s not the case when it’s the only thing you bring back?

Also, while Neptune Base is falling apart, it is in the same condition as when you left. With the proper precautions, you can always send people back down there. Is it safe? Heck no. But still feasible. I think the (Spoiler - click to show) creature’s corpse in the lab says a lot about the shenanigans that took place.

(Spoiler - click to show) These two ending outcomes consist of two small paragraphs. In a way, it seemed like the author did not bother or want to write individual outcomes. I know that’s a harsh criticism, but if the player spent all this time carefully collecting this evidence, it would have been nice to see a payoff. Plus, I’m a little curious to know more about society’s reaction to these highly unethical science experiments at the bottom of the ocean.

You did it, you escaped the base and have the evidence to show what happened to you and the crew of that doomed station.

A brief overview to summarize all that we have learned would have also helped in wrapping up an otherwise fun sci-fi horror adventure.

And yet, it was still an exciting story.

This is essentially an NPC-less game. The PC is featureless aside from being a member of the investigation team sent to check out Neptune Base.

The fact that you cannot “x me” struck me as a missed opportunity for character context. If you examine the mirror in the crew quarters, you get a description of the mirror rather than of your appearance. Because of this, I thought something weird may have happened to them after they were knocked out and later brought to the medical bay. What’s the game hiding? Looking back, there is not really anything to suggest that, but that was the state of my brain when I first started playing.

I do like how the protagonist has reactions towards gruesome events, particularly ones having to do with the other people from the investigation team. This adds depth to the scene since its contents are acknowledged and connects back to the protagonist’s ultimate reason for being at Neptune Base to begin with.

Speaking of gruesome: There is gore, but not a lot. A reasonable amount given the circumstances. Instead, the game focuses on a sense of dread which is spiked when you see how “everyone else” died. If the visuals become too much, you can just turn them off.

Not all Adventuron games have graphics, but it seems like most do and Escape from the Deep is one of them. They function as a nice visual aid, particularly for building atmosphere.

I liked how some action scenes had their own brief graphic, such as when you (Spoiler - click to show) poison the creature. When you glance at the monitors the game shows the “image” on the screen of the creature breaking open the vent.

The graphics for the (Spoiler - click to show) inside of moon pool scene were a bit cheesy. The moon pool itself was cool. Overall, the visuals were nicely paired with the gameplay.

Final thoughts
Despite some rough areas, this Escape from the Deep is one of the most entertaining Adventuron games I have played so far. You are probably reading this with skepticism given how much I complained, but I say it with productive intentions. I hope it is used that way.

I genuinely had fun with Escape from the Deep. It was one of those games that just comes along at random and appeals to your interests, mine being science fiction. The puzzles in particular offered a stimulating challenge, most being well-clued with creative solutions.

In case you are interested…
If you like the idea of galloping around a failing oceanic research base- especially one with questionable research projects- all (for the most part) by yourself, try A1RL0CK. Chloe, the protagonist, wakes up after an earthquake and gets to go wherever she wants, permitting that there is no locked door in the way. If I recall, the two games were released at around the same time on IFDB and complement each other in certain ways with sci-fi horror themes.

Escape from the Deep also shares similar vibes with The Pool, a Twine game about a marine research center that discarded its ethics for the sake of experimentation. To be frank, The Pool is not a quality game. It’s unpolished. That said, it has some merits, particularly with its distinct atmosphere and sea monster horror movie trope ambience. If you love this aquatic horror genre (a genre I just made up while writing this), The Pool might make a nice excursion.

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Reclamation, by groggydog

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A sci-fi investigation with a little bit of everything, November 25, 2022

You are in a cryotherapy room, awoken by a smiling AI who has a little task for you to take care of before you go back to sleep. Of course, you will comply.

The game begins on a one-person ship called the Silver Lining. A ship called the Charitable Donation had gone missing and reappeared without any sign of its crew. Survivors? That is for you to figure out. The Charitable Donation is a research ship designed to be a floating lab in space to conduct experiments deemed too dangerous to perform on a planet. Behind this looms CORPORATION UNLIMITED, a mega-corporation that holds modern society in its palm.

After waking up from cryosleep you are briefed on your mission by DOC, the standard AI built into CORPORATION UNLIMITED’s ships. You learn that you are a Reclamation Unit (and human, even if CORPORATION UNLIMITED does not act that way. Speaking of which, the game insists on spelling that in all caps so I will do the same!) and can even choose your serial number. I was Reclamation Unit #7. How exciting!

It is slick how the game incorporates a general parser tutorial into the game by having DOC test your motor and cognitive skills as you re-orient yourself. It is a tutorial that does not seem like a tutorial even though you obviously know it is one. It is super short, so it does not drag on for players who know what to do.

This is time travel game. I want to be careful but do not consider that to be a spoiler because it is established early on and is the focal point of the gameplay. Soon after boarding the Charitable Donation, you trigger a time loop that sends you back to the cryotherapy room in 50 turns. Using clues found on the ship you try to identify tasks and complete them before the counter runs out. Then it’s back to cryotherapy.

I like how the solutions are revealed in layers. There was never a point where I was unsure of what to do. For example, (Spoiler - click to show) the captain left a password in her room along with a message saying that hints for a second password could be found on her computer. I knew that this was my immediate objective, and the information from this puzzle had clear applications in the rest of the gameplay. The crew literally lays it out for the player. They even give you a (Spoiler - click to show) passwords log that you can carry in the time loop without losing it.

The game does use some cliches such as learning about the story largely through journal entries (extra points because it is on a spaceship). But what makes Reclamation different is that you are not merely reading things that were abandoned. (Spoiler - click to show) Those entries are for you. The crew wants you to find them. Suddenly, these entries are no longer optional deposits of story exposition. They take an active role in the gameplay which gives them an edge. Plus, the amount of material, I feel, is reasonable.

Not just another time travel game
When I play time travel games, I sometimes find myself placing them into two categories (I know, there are plenty of games out there that do not fit either one). In the first, the player can navigate the timeline and are free to decide when to leave. Often, the protagonist rides around in a physical machine that they operate. There are no time-based restraints that control the gameplay. Examples include First Things First and Roger’s Day Off.

The other category focuses on a time loop that the player cannot control, such as Reclamation. Some of the best time travel games out there use this approach, although it can be difficult to map out the passage of time relative to the gameplay. I think of games like Möbius which are high quality but features a (welcome) challenge with matching the time loop with the player’s turn count. In Reclamation, time travel is streamlined and easy to visualize. If you compare time travel games, you will get a sense of what I mean. I am not bothered by accepting hints, but I am pleased to say that there was never a point where I needed to use them.

Even better, Reclamation adds a unique premise to its portrayal of time travel that also provides an integrated explanation as to why the player is always sent back to the cryotherapy room. The logic is that (Spoiler - click to show) if you are in a lab and perform a time loop that resets, say, after an hour, you will not end up in the lab. Instead, when it resets you are sent to the location where you previously woke up (unless you sleep in the lab, of course). This unpredictability was a side effect that the crew could not control and noted the dangers it could pose. As for the player, because they woke up in the cryotherapy room that is where they are transported. I thought that this was a creative way of tying parts of the game together.

Reclamation takes place in the 22nd century and has familiar dystopian themes in its storyline. It reminds me a bit of Vicious Cycles, another parser (made with Inform) time travel game that considers the ethical implications of a vast corporate entity having the sole access to technology that can alter time. The player is stuck in a time loop that repeats until they find a conclusion. In both stories the creators of said technology start to have second thoughts about their work.

We know that CORPORATION UNLIMITED calls the shots when it comes to scientific progress, but you can only go so far before people snap. (Spoiler - click to show) Discovering how to create a temporal time loop was not enough. According to the captain’s correspondence, CORPORATION UNLIMITED wanted the research team to stay longer in space to develop a way of building this time travel technology into a nifty hand-held device.

By now everyone had figured out how this technology would be used. (Spoiler - click to show) CORPORATION UNLIMITED planned to put people in temporal time loops to maximize productivity. Time spent in the loop would feel like nothing to everyone outside it. You could get a year's worth of productivity instantaneously at the expense of people working away in the loop like a hamster on a hamster wheel. The crew of the Charitable Donation (such a cynical name, really) (Spoiler - click to show) have no intention enabling people to be turned into temporal hamsters, let alone accessorizing the technology for CORPORATION UNLIMITED's convenience. And so, the crew decided to destroy their own research. Discreetly.

Of course, that leads to (Spoiler - click to show) the question of, “where did everyone go?” The crew disabled their AI and made a small temporal copy of their ship and are hiding in it. The crew figured that CORPORATION UNLIMITED would investigate by sending a Reclamation Unit and decided to initiate a time loop to keep the protagonist from dallying with the corporation and instead follow the crew’s instructions to submit a report saying that the destruction of the time travel technology was an accident.

I have one question. It is about the (Spoiler - click to show) cat. Why did they not bring the cat with them? Was this intentional? Djamila's datapad says, "Once the cat was out of the bag,” which typically is a figure of speech, but I wonder if this is also a reference to the ship’s cat (who is named Pluto, by the way).

This is a world where everyone is formally identified by their job position and a number. You, for instance, are a mere Reclamation Unit (at least you get to choose the number). On record, the crewmembers of the Charitable Donation are units too, but their casual correspondence reveals lively personalities with real human names. The crew is interesting even though we never seen them in person. By reading their messages it really felt like they were guiding you along.

And no, (Spoiler - click to show) DOC is not on your side. He kind of reminds me of Georgie from lighthouse.

This is an Adventuron game that utilizes some basic visuals. A built-in map is added for the player’s convenience. The map shows an outline of the Charitable Donation with boxes representing rooms. Nothing fancy, but practical. The screen also turns white as the time loop restarts and sends you back to the cryotherapy room which creates an intense effect.

There is one other visual besides the map: DOC, the ship AI. He is a cheery hologram of a beaker with a face, glasses, and a red bowtie. He is filled with blue liquid. (Spoiler - click to show) Despite his appearance do NOT trust him.

Final thoughts
This game has all the tropes: Cryogenic suspension at the start of the game, a single all-powerful megacorporation, a mysterious and seemingly abandoned spaceship, a mainframe AI, frequent use of journal entries, and time-travel thrown in for fun. And yet, it takes these tropes and sews them together into something novel and fun. While Reclamation has many similarities with other games, it feels like an original piece. It offers gameplay challenges without being too difficult and was rewarding to complete. There are two endings, and the (Spoiler - click to show) Humanitarian ending was brief but quite human.

Even if an NPC-less scavenger hunt in a dead spaceship is not of interest to you, Reclamation may surprise you with its player-oriented gameplay and interesting story.

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